For students faced with mounting debts and uncertain employment prospects there is palpable trepidation. Of course, there are alternatives to university — and one in particular to which Calgary’s UA Local 496 (which represents 1,800 construction-pipe trade workers) is keen to draw awareness.

In fall, 2013 Calgary’s UA Local 496 began the first intake of students into their introductory skilled trades program. The program, which teaches high school students the fundamentals of a number of important pipefitting trades, was an instant success: of the eight students enrolled in the first intake, seven went on to obtain full apprenticeships.

Amazing progress

Graham Hunter, a business agent with Local 496 is thrilled with the program so far. “The first year we ran it we had just eight kids — we’re over double that now and looking to expand further — hopefully with assistance from the province.”

Trevor Robertson, a Local 496 Field Representative is also delighted with the course and the feedback it has received. “The reaction from parents has been staggering. We held a graduation ceremony and were just overwhelmed. Parents came up to me, shook my hand, mothers hugged me with tears in their eyes — telling me about how their sons had changed — and how they had focus now. It’s just amazing.”

Seizing the opportunity

One student who recently participated in the program is Matt Pollock, 17. He says school “is kind of boring, but it’s something you have to do,”. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure what I was going to do after school — maybe become a mechanic but when the chance came along to take part in the program, I thought ‘why not?’ I’m so happy I did; I learned so much. I can’t wait to finish school so I can start my [steamfitting] apprenticeship.”

Broadening the scope

The local though, is not content with its success and wants to expand. According to Ryan Emond, Calgary Board of Education Off-Campus Learning Leader, the learning model is one that all trades should embrace. “I’ve leaned on the Boilermaker’s [union] a little bit because they have a great facility that has the capacity to offer what the 496 has done,” says Ryan. “I’d like to see this go province-wide.” As more students exit the program and begin their apprenticeships, such an outcome seems inevitable.